“Staying sober really was the most important thing in my life now and had given me direction when I thought I had none.” ~Bradley Cooper
I remember that exact feeling of shame that washed over me when I was filling Yeti water bottles with 100 proof vodka instead of water. Then I chugged it, all while knowing it was the worst idea. Yet, I couldn’t stop.
Addiction is messy.
My social outings were with the wealthiest in the town, always with plenty of other alcoholics in my midst. I surrounded myself with people who drank like me because why on earth would I want to associate with someone who doesn’t drink? It looked like I was living the life when, in reality, I was dead inside.
The truth is, sometimes your soul has to die before you decide to actually be alive. My soul died, but my body continued living, and I wore a shield, defending myself from people. I wanted them to see the person I was projecting; the person I wanted to be.
I wanted to be all of the things that I was showing them, but I was truly depressed, anxious, troubled, and lost.
My addiction started with a boy. I was addicted to him, to love, to the idea of love, and eventually, to his drugs. He became my dealer, my controller, my manipulator, and my life.
He introduced me to hard drugs, and I immediately latched on. He completely stripped me of any sort of normal life.
But I would do anything for him. The occasional use turned into daily use.
At the time, I was in college, and I was still managing to do well. However, he got a job offer in another city thousands of miles away. He said if I didn’t come with him, we were done.
I went into a depression I had never known before. I remember sleeping for days in my parents’ basement. The thought of being apart from this boy completely broke me.
So I moved with him. My messy addiction was getting worse.
It wasn’t long before he found someone in our new city who knew a dealer. I got excited knowing there was something else to try, so I dove right in. These drugs led to complete destruction.
I was now failing school. Me, a straight-A honor student. My mom came out to visit for my twenty-first birthday. She could tell something was off, but I had been lying for so long.
I wasn’t ready to tell anyone.
I knew I was only in the relationship because he got me drugs. I was scared to leave because he was my first love, and I didn’t know anything else. My life was a mess.
I dropped out of college, claiming an “emotional breakdown.” I didn’t have a job. I had no idea what I was doing with myself.
I was completely lost.
A few months after my birthday, I called my mom and told her I needed to come home. Of course, the next morning I regretted it, but it was too late. My parents were on their way to get me.
My soul finally completely died because of the mess I was in.
I broke up with the boy.
I quit drugs cold turkey. Looking back, I have no idea how I did this; I don’t remember withdrawals or cravings. I was determined to start cleaning up my life, but addiction is messy, cunning, baffling, and powerful. So I replaced drugs with alcohol.
I always drank to get drunk. I felt that I had missed out on college life, and I needed to make up for it. I had been controlled for too long; I was finally free.
I did what I thought was normal for someone in her early twenties. I drank every day, starting at 5 p.m. That’s what adults do, right?
I didn’t think I had a problem until I realized how much more alcohol I needed compared to my friends. Every time we went out, they were completely hammered, and I barely had a buzz. I started bringing my own shooters in my purse so that I could have extra on hand.
I would pour vodka into mini shampoo bottles so that it wasn’t evident that it was alcohol. I’d buy 100 proof to get the job done quicker.
I thought it was fun. It was my secret, and I liked hiding it. It was like a game.
When people saw me drink three glasses of wine, they had no idea about the water bottles filled with vodka that I had chugged earlier. I’d gauge how much I was drinking by counting the number of gulps I took or by seeing how many shampoo bottles were empty.
I hid how much I was drinking very well. I was a functioning alcoholic. I had a great husband, amazing friends, and a stable job.
In my mind, there was no way I was an alcoholic because I had all of these things.
There were several incidents that should have been the end, but I was never ready. It took years of looking at myself in the mirror, thinking, Ellen, this has to stop. You can’t continue drinking like this. So, I would try drinking a different way.
Only wine during the week. Vodka on weekends. Svedka instead of 100 proof Smirnoff.
The only thing that stayed consistent was that I never allowed anyone to see how much I was truly drinking. I knew it deep down in my dead soul that I would either die drinking or that I would have to admit out loud that I had a problem.
The day finally came, the day I had been putting off for years because I was so scared. My last drink.
I learned later that my last day drinking was one of my “yets.” The things that make you convince yourself that you are not an alcoholic. “I haven’t gotten a DUI… yet.” Or “I haven’t lost my job… yet.” Mine was “I’ve never brought alcohol into work… yet.”
My last drink was really a continuation of several days of drinking. I had finished everything that was hidden in the closet by 6 a.m. before heading to work.
I took my lunch break early (like 9:15 early) and drove to the first liquor store. It didn’t open until 10:00. I thought to myself “only an alcoholic would be caught waiting for a liquor store to open; I can’t do that.”
So I went to another one nearby. Yes! It was open!
I went in and got my usual. The cashier rang me up and said, “Why are you here so early today?” I was so embarrassed.
Little did he know I needed this to calm my shakes, feel better, and make it through the morning.
I had basically woken up still drunk and was just continuing the drunk in order to feel okay. I was completely wasted by lunch.
I knew I would be fired if anyone noticed. I had to get out of the building.
I called my husband. I knew he’d be upset, but I have the most supportive and compassionate husband. He picked me up from work.
He was scared, confused, and completely sad. Why was I wasted at work on a Thursday by noon? On the drive home before passing out, I finally knew that something needed to change.
I knew that I was the only person who could make that change. I didn’t want to live this way anymore.
For me. The only way getting sober works is when you realize you have to do it for yourself. No one else can do it for you.
And that was it. I started my journey in recovery that day.
My sober life is amazing. Yes, I still have regular life problems, but everything is so much more manageable without the haze. I can do things now that I never did before, and everything makes a little more sense.
I’m back to being Ellen.
I have amazing things in my life that keep me clean and sober. Addiction is messy, but we do recover. First and foremost, I have a strong program of recovery.
It wasn’t until I went to a rehab center that I learned that people in this world could teach me how to live a sober life and develop healthy coping mechanisms. I know how to soothe myself without substances and how to navigate this world without numbing myself.
I work a recovery program that includes meetings, steps, and constant interaction with like-minded people. I have mostly sober friends and have cultivated lifelong relationships that matter.
Secondly, I was able to get pregnant and start a family once sober; I have twins! I believe that the Universe had all of this lined up for me. I could never have done any of these things in any different order.
Finally, I have good relationships with loved ones and peers. I am not lying to them every day, hurting them, and treating them terribly. I know I am loved, and I am not alone.
Everything is perfectly in place the way it is supposed to be according to my journey. And now I can actually see that clearly.
Addiction is messy, but it made me who I am today. Without this mess, I would not have this life. Now that I am clean, my soul has been brought back to life.
About Ellen Elizabeth
Ellen Elizabeth is a recovery advocate who uses her skills as an author and sober mother of twins to coach people struggling with feelings of shame and inadequacy. These people feel powerless to quit drinking. Through radical honesty and recovery principles, Ellen inspires people to define who they want to be and transform their demons into dreams.